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Five questions Congress should ask about UAVs

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Why haven’t tests on UAVs being sucked into an aircraft engine already been performed?

Congress is rightly taking a look at the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and airliner safety. Here are five questions members of Congress should be asking:

  1. When will FAA and/or aircraft/engine manufacturers do tests to find out what would happen if a small UAV and a commercial aircraft collide? In particular, tests need to be done to find out what would happen if a small UAV, like the 19 different types of “drones” being sold by Walmart, is sucked into an aircraft engine. Why haven’t these tests already been performed?

  2. What are the sellers of small, recreational UAVs doing to inform buyers about operating rules? It is illegal to fly these devices within five miles of an airport and over 400 feet altitude. Are those selling drones passing on this information and how so?

  3. How viable is geo-fencing technology? Many are touting this technology as a panacea—just program the drone so it can’t operate within five miles of an airport—but is this really feasible? As Graham Warwick, my colleague from Aviation Week, pointed out in our recent podcast discussion on this issue, geo-fencing is not as simple as its advocates make it out to be.

  4. When someone buys a small UAV, do we have a record of who is buying the device so it can be tracked back to the owner after an incident? What would be involved in mandating and developing such a drone ownership database?

  5. What are the protocols for airline pilots spotting UAVs? One fear is that a recreational UAV could cause an incident not by colliding with an airliner, but by causing a pilot to make a risky evasive maneuver to avoid it.

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